LUCRETIUS


ON THE NATURE OF THINGS

 


Translated by Ian Johnston
Vancouver Island University
Nanaimo, British Columbia

2010 
Minor Revisions 2017


For Table of Contents and information about this translation, including copyright, please use this link: Contents.


BOOK SIX

 

[Tribute to the greatness of Athens and Epicurus; winds and storms; disasters not divine punishment; causes of thunder; lightning faster than thunder; causes and effects of lightning; seasons when lightning occurs more frequently; lightning not divine punishment; origin of presters; formations of clouds; moisture from clouds; causes and effects of earthquakes; reasons for the constant size of the ocean; eruption of volcanoes; odd behaviour of the River Nile; nature of Avernian regions; temperatures in water wells; magnetic powers of lodestone; origin of diseases; the plague in Athens.]

 

To suffering mortal beings long ago                                    GREATNESS OF ATHENS AND EPICURUS
Athens, that city with a splendid name,
first taught ways of producing crops of grain,
fashioned a new life, and established laws.
She first offered life’s sweet consolations,
when she gave birth to a man who revealed
such great genius and from whose truthful mouth
once poured forth all wisdom—his glory,
even in death, has long been spread abroad,
through his divine discoveries, and raised                            10
up to the sky.(1) For when he saw that things
which mortal men required for survival
had by now almost all been well supplied,                                           [10]
that their way of life, as much as possible,
had a safe foundation, that men possessed
ample power through wealth, honour, and praise
and took pride in the fine reputation
of their children, but that, in spite of this,
none of them in his own home had a heart
any less anxious—it disturbed their lives                             20
by tormenting their minds continuously,
forcing them to grow enraged, to complain
about their bitter troubles—he then saw
that the vessel itself was creating
the defect and that all things collected
from outside, however beneficial,
once they entered, were corrupted inside
by that fault, partly because he observed
that the vessel leaked and was full of holes,                                         [20]
so there was no way it ever could be filled                          30
and partly because he saw it poisoned
everything it absorbed within itself,
as if with a disgusting taste. Therefore,
he purged men’s hearts with words that spoke the truth,
setting a limit to desires and fears
and pointing out what was the highest good
we all are striving for. He showed the road
by which we can, along a short pathway,
reach it directly. And what is evil
in affairs of mortal men everywhere                                     40
he clarified—things which quite naturally
arise and fly around in various ways,                                                  [30]
whether by accident or by some force,
because that is what nature has arranged—
and the gate through which we should sally forth
to meet each one.(2) And he demonstrated
that in their hearts the human race stirs up
anxious tides of worries, for the most part
with no good reason. For just as children
tremble in blinding darkness and are afraid                          50
of everything, so sometimes in the light
we dread things which are no more to be feared
than those which during the night young people
tremble at, dreaming of what will happen.
Therefore, this terror, this darkness of mind,
must be dispelled, not by rays of sunlight                                            [40]
or bright arrows of the day, but by reason
and the face of nature. In pursuit of that,
I will hasten all the more to finish
what I have been weaving in these verses.                           60

Now, since I have shown that the world’s regions
are mortal and that the heavens consist
of matter which was born, and for the most part
have discussed all things that happen in it
and which must happen, you should keep listening
to what still remains, since [I have ventured]
this once to climb up in the splendid chariot
[of the Muses and ascend to heaven,
to explain the true law of winds and storms,
which men, in their folly, ascribe to gods.                            70
People say that gods, when angry, bring on                        FEAR LEADS TO BELIEF IN GODS
raging storms and then, when a lull occurs
in the fury] of the winds, that gods’ anger
is appeased and everything which was there
has changed back again, now that their anger
has been soothed.(3) [I will explain] all the rest
which mortals creatures observe taking place
on earth and in the sky, when so often
they are in suspense, their minds full of dread,
things which demean their souls with fear of gods.               80
These weigh on them and press them to the ground.
Their ignorance of causes forces them
to assign things to the rule of deities
and to concede that gods are in control.(4)
For if those who have correctly learned that gods
lead lives free from care still from time to time
wonder how everything can come about,
especially in those events they see
overhead in regions of the aether,
they are carried back to old religion                                    90
and accept harsh masters, who, they believe,
in their misery, can do everything,
being ignorant of what can and cannot be,
in short, by what law each thing possesses                                         [70]
limited power, a deep-set boundary stone.
And therefore men lose their way even more,
carried away by their blind reasoning.
If you do not spit such things from your mind,
drive far off thoughts unworthy of the gods,
which have no part in their serenity,                                    100
gods’ sacred power, which you have slighted,
will often hurt you—not that one can harm
the supreme majesty of gods so that,
in its anger, it would resolve to seek
harsh punishment, but because you yourself
may well believe that those serene beings
in their calm peace roll out great waves of rage,
and when you approach temples of the gods
your heart will not be calm. You will lack strength
to contemplate with tranquil peace of mind                          110
those images borne from divine bodies                                               [80]
into the minds of men as messengers
of their sacred forms.(5) You can imagine
what kind of life would follow after that.

Now, although I have set down many things,
still, in order for the surest reasoning
to hurl such a life far away from us,
many things remain to be embellished
in polished poetry. We need to grasp
what heaven looks like and the reasons why.                      120
We must sing of storms and brilliant lightning,
what they do and what brings on each of them,
so you do not section off the heavens                                                 [90]
and grow anxious and frantic about where
flying fire came from, or to which part
it has turned itself, or how it passed through
walled areas and, after ruling there,
brought itself back out.(6) And there is no way
men can see causes for events like this,
so people believe they are brought about                            130
by power of the gods. And as I race
to the white line which marks my final goal,
point out the pathway lying in front of me,
O Calliope, you ingenious Muse,
you solace for men and delight of gods,
so that, with your assistance, I may win
the crown and with it preeminent fame.(7)

First of all, thunder makes the blue sky shake,                    THUNDER
because aetherial clouds flying up high
collide when opposing winds are fighting.                           140
For no sound arises from those places
where the sky is clear, but wherever clouds                                        [100]
are more densely packed, from that spot rumbles
more frequently the great roar of thunder.
Then, too, clouds cannot possess a body
as dense as stones and wood or as rarefied
as mists and flying smoke. For then they must
either be brought down by their own dead weight,
like rocks, or else, like smoke, they could not
retain their shape and hold inside themselves                       150
frozen snow and showers of hail. And clouds
also give off sound across the reaches
of the open sky, just as stretched canvas
in large theatres sometimes makes a noise
as it is tossed among the posts and beams,
and at times, when struck by forceful breezes,                                    [110]
it rages wildly and then makes a sound
like crackling paper sheets.(8) And you can hear
that sort of sound also in the thunder
or when gusting winds beat hanging garments                      160
or flying paper strips and make them rattle
in the air. And it also is the case
that sometimes clouds cannot so much collide
face to face as move past along the side,
scraping their bodies with various motions
slowly on their flanks, and then a dry sound,
which lasts a while, brushes against our ears,
until they move off from that area                                                        [120]
in which they are confined.

                                          In this way, too,
all things struck by heavy thunder often                               170
appear to tremble, and the mighty walls
of the spacious world in an instant seem
to burst and split apart, when forceful winds
in a gathering storm suddenly twist themselves
inside the clouds and, in that enclosed space,
with their swirling current increasingly
compel the cloud to hollow itself out
in all directions with a thickening crust
around its body and then later on,
when the force and harsh power of the wind                       180
have weakened it, the cloud then splits apart
with a crash, a terrible cracking noise.
This is not surprising, since a small bladder                                         [130]
filled with air often makes a savage noise
if it suddenly explodes.

                                                    Moreover,
there is also a way winds may make sounds
when they blow through clouds. For we often see
irregular, branching clouds carried along
in various directions, and we can be sure
it is like those moments when northwest gales                      190
blow through dense forest, so that leaves rustle
and branches crack. It can also happen
that sometimes the force of a mighty wind,
as it rushes on, breaks a cloud apart,
attacking from the front and slicing through it,
for what the wind is capable of doing
in the sky is made clear by obvious facts
here on earth, where it is less violent                                                   [140]
but still throws down tall trees and rips them out,
deep roots and all. And moving through the clouds             200
there are waves as well, and these, as it were,
in their heavy fall give off crashing sounds,
like the ones created by deep rivers
and by huge seas when their surf breaks on shore.
And sometimes, too, when the fiery power
of lightning cuts from one cloud to another,
if by chance the cloud which receives the fire
contains much moisture, it puts out the flame
at once with a loud noise, just as hot iron
from a burning furnace sometimes hisses                             210
when we plunge it quickly in cold water.
Then, too, if the cloud which takes in the flame                                   [150]
is drier, it is set alight at once
and makes a huge noise while it burns, as if
twisting storm winds were pushing flames along
through mountain laurel trees, consuming them
in a massive onslaught—and there is nothing
which makes a more frightful sound when burning
in crackling fire than the Delphic laurel
of Apollo. And then in large high clouds                              220
great fractures in the ice and falling hail
often make a noise, for mountains of clouds
which are frozen and mixed with hail break up
when they are pushed together by the wind.
In the same way there are flashes of light                                            [160]
when, thanks to their collision, clouds give off
many seeds of fire, just like when a stone
strikes stone or iron. For then, as well, a light
springs out and scatters bright fiery sparks.
But it so happens that we hear thunder                               230
in our ears after our eyes perceive the flash,
because things always move towards our ears                    SOUNDS MOVE MORE SLOWLY THAN SIGHTS
more slowly than things which stir our vision.
And this you can learn from the following point:
if from some distance you look at a man
chopping a large tree with a double axe,
your eyes will see the blow before its sound
goes through your ears. So, too, we also see                                      [170]
lightning flash before we hear the thunder,
which is given out at the same moment                                240
as the fire and from a similar cause,
produced from the very same collision.
And in this way, too, clouds also colour
places in a fleeting light, and a storm
flickers with a quivering intensity.
When by invading and whirling around
inside a cloud, the wind has made that cloud,
as I have shown above, hollow and thick,
its own motion makes it hot, just as you see
everything gets warmer when its movement                         250
heats it up—even a ball made of lead
rotating through a lengthy distance melts.
Thus, once hot wind splits the black cloud apart,                                [180]
it scatters particles of fire, as if
they were all suddenly expelled by force,
and these produce the pulsing flash of fire.
The sound then follows. It reaches our ears
more slowly than those things which make their way
towards the pupils in our eyes.

                                                            These things,
you understand, take place when clouds are thick               260
and, at the same time, when they are stacked high,
one above another, a stunning sight.
Do not deceive yourself because you see
from down below how widely spaced they are
rather than how high up the pile extends.
For you should watch when winds carry these clouds
with shapes like mountains sideways through the air                            [190]
or when you see them massed on mighty peaks,
heaped on one another and pressing down
from up above, all firmly fixed in place,                               270
with winds from all directions fast asleep.
Then you can recognize their immense size
and see caverns structured like hanging rocks.
After a storm has gathered and the winds
have filled them and are now enclosed in clouds,
with a loud growling they grow indignant
and threaten like wild creatures in their dens,
at times roaring out from one location
through the clouds, at other times from others,
and, as they seek an outlet, they twist round,                       280            [200]
rolling together elements of fire
out of the clouds, and in this way collect
many particles, making flame rotate
in hollow ovens, until they split the clouds
and come bursting out with a brilliant flash.
And for this reason, too, it so happens
that the golden colour of swift liquid fire
flies down to earth, because the clouds themselves
must have numerous particles of flame.
In fact, when there is no moisture in them,                           290
their colour, as a rule, is bright and fiery.
For, as one might expect, clouds must absorb
many such particles from the sun’s light,
so there is a valid reason they are red                                                 [210]
and send out fires. And therefore, when the wind,
as it drives them, pushes them together
and forcefully compacts them in one place,
they squeeze out and emit these particles
that create the flash of flaming colours.
And in a similar way light blazes out                                    300
when the celestial clouds are thin, as well.
For when winds gently separate the clouds,
as they move and break them up, then those seeds
which make the flash must fall out on their own,
producing light but without horrid fear
or noise or any uproar.

                                                As for the rest,                  LIGHTNING FIRES
the kind of nature lightning bolts possess
is demonstrated by the blows and marks                                            [220]
their fires burn in things and by the traces
which give off a heavy smell of sulphur.                               310
For these are signs of fire, not wind or rain.
Then, too, they also often set on fire
roofs of houses and with their rapid flames
take over even inside the building.
For, as you should know, nature makes these flames,
which produce the most subtle of all fires,
from minute and swift-moving particles,
so nothing at all can stand against them.
A powerful lightning bolt passes through
walls of houses, as do sounds and voices.                           320
It goes through rocks and bronze and, in an instant,                            [230]
melts brass and gold. It also causes wine
to leak quickly from intact containers—
once its heat arrives, it clearly loosens
all substances around it easily,
thinning the earthy matter of the jar
and moving right into the wine itself.
Its quick motion disperses and dissolves
the elementary particles of wine,
something we see the sun’s heat cannot do                         330
even in a long period of time,
although its pulsing heat is very strong—
that shows us a lightning bolt possesses
much more speed and power.

                                  Now, how these flashes                   PRODUCTION OF LIGHTING STRIKES
are created and acquire such great force
that a blow can split fortresses apart,                                                 [240]
level houses, tear off planks and timbers,
destroy and scatter human monuments,
annihilate men, wipe out cattle herds
in all directions—the power they have                                 340
which makes them capable of carrying out
all other things like this I will explain,
and I will not keep you waiting any more
by making promises.

                                                   These lightning bolts,
we must assume, are produced from thick clouds
piled up high, for none are ever sent down
from a clear sky or patches of thin cloud.
And there is no doubt that obvious facts
show this to be the case. When storms approach,
clouds form such a dense mass in the whole sky,                 350            [250]
that on every side we could well believe
all darkness had abandoned Acheron
and filled up the immense vault of the sky,
so dreadful are the faces of dark horror
hanging high above us, once that foul night
of clouds has gathered and the storm begins
to forge its lightning bolts. And out at sea,
often a black cloud, like a stream of pitch
poured down from the heavens, will also fall
into waves completely filled with darkness                          360
some distance off, drawing with it dark storms
weighed down with lightning bolts and hurricanes
and itself so loaded with fires and winds—                                         [260]
more so than all the rest—that even on land
men are afraid and shelter in their homes.
So then we must assume the storm clouds stand
high above our heads, for they would not shroud
the land in such thick gloom, unless they were
built up in huge numbers on each other
to a great height, extinguishing the sun,                                370
and as they move, they could not inundate
the earth with such heavy rain that they make
rivers flood and fields swim underwater,
unless the upper air were filled with clouds
heaped high on one another. And therefore,
all parts are full of winds and fires, so that
they give off thunder claps and lightning strikes                                    [270]
on every side. For I have shown above
that hollow clouds obviously contain
numerous seeds of heat, and they must get                          380
many more from the heat of the sun’s rays.
Thus, when the same wind which has collected
these clouds by chance in some place or other
has forced out many particles of heat
and, at the same time, has itself mingled
with this fire, an eddy of wind moves in,
twisting around there in the confined space,
and inside the burning furnace sharpens
the lightning bolt. For the wind is heated
in two ways: its own motion makes it hot,                           390
as does its contact with the fire. And then,                                          [280]
when the wind’s force has grown extremely hot
and the fire’s harsh power has entered it,
the lightning is, as it were, fully ripe.
All at once it bursts through the cloud—its fire,
once set in motion, is carried away,
flooding all regions with its pulsing light.
The heavy crash of thunder follows on,
so that it seems to crush open spaces
in the sky, which suddenly has split apart.                           400
Then violent shudders run through the earth,
and rumblings race through the heights of heaven,
for at that point the whole storm is shaken,
shuddering and giving off loud noises.
After this commotion comes heavy rain                                              [290]
in huge amounts, so all the upper sky
seems to be turned into rain pelting down
in such a way as to recall the Deluge,
so great is the rainstorm which is discharged
by bursting clouds and windy hurricanes,                             410
once thunder flies out from that fiery blow.(9)
Sometimes, too, the aroused force of the wind
falls from the outside onto a hot cloud
ready to discharge a flash of lightning.
Once the wind breaks it apart, there shoots out
immediately that fiery whirl we call
by its ancestral name—the thunderbolt.
The same thing occurs in other places, too,
wherever that force of wind is carried.

There are also times when it so happens                              420           [300]
that the power of wind, although sent out                            FIRES CAUSED BY MOTION OF WIND
lacking fire will, after a long distance,
still catch fire in motion. While it proceeds,
in flight it sheds some of its large particles
which cannot keep on moving through the air
the way the others can, and it picks up
other small elements from air itself
and carries them along. These get mixed in
and by their motion create fire, much like
a moving lead ball, which often grows hot,                          430
once it has shed many cold particles
and gathered fire in air. In addition,
it can happen that fire will be kindled
by the very force of the blow itself,
when that power inside the wind which strikes                                    [310]
is sent out cold, without fire, for clearly,
once the wind hits with a forceful impact,
particles of heat can flow together
from the wind itself and at the same time
from the substance which then receives the blow,                440
just like the times we strike a stone with iron
and fire flies out. Nor do those particles,
those bright fiery sparks, flow off any less
on impact because the iron’s force is cold.
So, then, in the same manner an object
must also ignite from a lightning bolt,
if it happens to be combustible
and fit to burn. Nor should we rashly think
that the forceful power in wind can be
fully and completely cold, once discharged                          450
with such strength from high above, but instead,
if it is not already set on fire
earlier in its journey, it still arrives                                                       [320]
warm and mixed with heat.

                                     But the lightning bolt                     VELOCITY OF LIGHTNING
has a high speed and enormous impact.
It almost always charges on its way
in a rapid fall, since its force, once roused,
in every case first gathers itself up,
on its own, inside the clouds, and begins
a massive effort to get out. And then,                                  460
when the cloud is unable to restrain
the increased power, its force is expelled
and so escapes at an amazing speed,
like missiles which are carried off when hurled
from powerful machines.(10) Beyond all this,
a lightning bolt consists of particles                                                     [330]
which are small and smooth—it is not easy
for any object to stand up against
this kind of substance, for it penetrates
and makes its way through porous passageways                 470
and thus is not impeded or delayed
by many obstacles. For this reason,
it speeds on and falls at a rapid rate.
Then, too, it is natural that all weights,
without exception, always fall straight down,
but when a blow is added, then the speed
is doubled and that impulse is increased,
so that the impact of the lightning bolt
all the more fiercely and swiftly smashes
whatever gets in its way and hinders it,                                480
as it continues on its journey. Besides,
since it moves with continuing momentum,                                          [340]
it must increasingly gain speed, which grows
as it progresses and makes its huge force
even greater, strengthening its impact.
For its speed causes all the particles
inside the thunderbolt to be carried,
as it were, towards one place, and forces
all of them together, as they roll round,
into that one direction.(11) And perhaps                              490
the bolt, as it moves, draws from air itself
certain objects, whose blows increase its speed.
It goes through some things without harming them
and with many substances passes through
leaving them intact, for its molten fire
slips through open pores. But it breaks apart
many things when the lightning’s particles                                            [350]
themselves strike an object’s basic elements
where these are held in close combination.
It melts brass easily and in an instant                                   500
makes gold boil, because its power consists
of smooth and minutely small elements,
which quickly penetrate and, once inside,
immediately liquefy connections
and dissolve all bonds.

                                          The vault of heaven,                SEASONS FAVOURABLE TO LIGHTNING
set with gleaming stars, and the entire earth
are violently shaken everywhere,
above all in the autumn and the spring,
when the flowers spread themselves in season.
For in the cold there is a lack of fires,                                 510            [360]
and in hot weather winds withdraw, and clouds
are not so physically dense. And thus,
when heavenly seasons are between the two,
then all the various causes of lightning
come together. For those stormy passages
during the year themselves mix cold and heat,
and to produce their lightning bolts the clouds
need both of these, so matter get disturbed,
and air, in a great commotion, rages
and swirls around with fires and winds. And spring              520
is the time, in part, of the first hot weather
and, in part, of the last icy freezing.(12)
Thus, at that time unlike things must get mixed                                     [370]
and fight each other with great turbulence.
And when the last hot weather rolls along,
mingled with the initial cold, a time
which goes by the name of autumn, then, too,
fierce winters battle against summer heat.
Thus, we should call these seasons of the year
times of stormy passage. Nor is it strange                           530
that lightning bolts occur most frequently
at that time and chaotic storms arise
up in the sky, since both sides stir themselves
in dubious battle, one armed with flames,
one with wind and water mixed together.
This is how one explores the true nature
of the fiery lightning bolt and perceives
the force with which it brings out each effect,                                      [380]
not by wasting one’s time unrolling scrolls
of Etruscan verses, seeking traces                                       540
of some hidden divine will, to find out
where flying fire came from, which region
it has gone to from here, how it has pierced
walled places and, after playing the tyrant
inside there, has then made its way outside,
or what harm the blow of a lighting bolt
from heaven is capable of doing.(13)
But if Jupiter and other gods shake
bright heavenly spaces with dreadful noise
and hurl down fire to any place at all,                                  550
according to what each of them desires,
why do they not see to it that those men                                             [390]
who in their recklessness have committed
abominable acts are struck and stink
of lightning fires from hearts pierced by the bolt,
a bitter precedent for mortal men?
Why instead is the man who is aware
he himself has committed no wrong act
in his innocence entangled and wrapped
in flames, snatched up in fiery hurricanes                             560
suddenly sent down from heaven? Besides,
why do they target isolated places
and work so hard for nothing? Or are they
exercising limbs, toning their muscles?
Why do they allow their father’s weapon
to be blunted on the earth? Why does he
let that happen and not save the lightning
for his enemies? Why does Jupiter                                                      [400]
never hurl down his lightning bolt on earth
or let his thunder peal when skies are clear                          570
in all directions? Or as soon as clouds
appear, does he himself go down to them,
so that from there he may guide the impact
his weapons make from close at hand? And why
does he send them into the sea? What charges
does he bring against that liquid mass of waves,
those fields of water? And if he wants us
to beware the stroke of his thunderbolt,
why is he reluctant to arrange things
so we can see it as he hurls it down?                                   580
But if he wishes to overwhelm us
with his lightning when we are unaware,
why does he thunder from that area,
so we can guard against it? Why does he
first stir up darkness, noises, and rumbling?                                         [410]
And how can you believe he discharges
lightning to many places all at once?
Would you dare to say it never happens
that many strikes occur at the same time?
But that has happened very frequently                                590
and must take place—just as rain and showers
fall in many spots, so numerous thunderbolts
are formed at the same time. And finally,
why does he destroy the sacred temples
of the gods and his own splendid dwellings
with hostile lightning and smash to pieces
well fashioned idols of the gods, robbing
his own images of their dignity                                                            [420]
with a violent wound? Why for the most part
does he aim at high places, for we see                                 600
most traces of his fire on mountain tops?

To continue now with this discussion,                                 WATERSPOUTS
from these facts one can quickly understand
those natural things the Greeks called presters,
which are sent down from the upper regions
and reach the sea.(14) For sometimes it happens
that, as it were, a column from the sky
is sent down and moves right into the sea.
Around it water seethes, roused to fury
by the blasting winds, and any vessels                                 610
caught up at that time in the turbulence
are shaken and placed in utmost danger.                                            [430]
This occurs when sometimes the force of wind,
once stirred up, cannot burst out from the cloud
it has begun to split apart. Instead,
it pushes the cloud down, so gradually
it looks just like a pillar sent from the sky
down to the sea, as if a thrusting fist
and arm were pushing something from above,
forcing it into the waves. Once the wind                              620
has split the cloud, its force bursts out from there
into the sea and agitates the waves
in an amazing way, for the vortex
spins as it descends and carries with it
the viscous body of that cloud. And once
it has pushed the cloud, fully laden, down                                           [440]
to the level of the sea, suddenly
that whole vortex plunges itself fully
in the water, disturbing all the sea
and forcing it into a seething mass,                                      630
making a tumultuous din. Sometimes, too,
that windy vortex wraps itself in clouds,
gathering particles of cloud from air
and, as it were, imitates a prester
sent down from the sky.(15) Then, once this vortex
has brought itself to earth and broken up,
with enormous fury it vomits out
hurricanes and storms. But because this wind
is, in general, quite rare and mountains
must hamper it on land, we observe it                                 640
more often in the wide panorama
of the sea and great stretches of the sky.                                             [450]
And clouds collect when numerous particles
flying high up in this region of the sky
suddenly combine—rougher elements
which are held together by tenuous links
but which still can mutually combine
and keep themselves united. At the start,
these particles cause small clouds to gather,
and then these assemble, merge together                            650
and, as they coalesce, increase in size,
and the winds keep carrying them away
until at last a savage storm arises.
It also happens that with mountain peaks
the closer they approach the sky, the more                                         [460]
their summits constantly are wreathed in smoke
from murky vapours of yellowish cloud,
because when those clouds begin to gather,
before our eyes can see their tenuous forms,
winds carry them off, driving them to peaks                        660
of the highest mountains. And in this place,
when a larger number has collected
and condensed, we can at last perceive them,
and at the same time we see them rise up
from the very summit of the mountain
into the upper air. These facts themselves
and what we observe when we climb high hills
demonstrate that there is plenty of wind
in regions which extend high up above.
Then, too, when clothes hung up along the shore                 670            [470]
absorb the moisture which adheres to them,
they show that nature lifts many particles
from the entire ocean. Thus, we perceive
all the more plainly that many of them
could also rise up to augment the clouds
from the salt water in the heaving sea,
for both liquids have a similar nature.

And furthermore, we observe mists and steam
rising from all rivers and from earth, too,
which, after being forced away from there,                         680
like a breath, are carried upwards, shrouding
the heavens in darkness and gradually
combining to make clouds up in the sky.                                            [480]
For vapour in the high starry aether
also brings to bear a downward pressure
and by condensing, so to speak, it weaves
a network of clouds underneath the blue.
It happens, too, that from some outside place
there come into this sky those particles
which produce clouds, as well as flying storms.(16)              690
For I have shown that their total number
is immeasurable, the full extent
of deep space infinite, and pointed out
how fast bodies fly, how they normally
move unimaginable distances
instantaneously. Thus, it is not strange
if storms and darkness frequently conceal                                           [490]
the sea and land in a short space of time
with such gigantic mountains formed from clouds
hanging overhead, since on every side                                700
these particles have exits and entrances
through all the passageways in the aether
and, as it were, through the breathing places
of the great universe surrounding them.

Come now, I will show how moisture gathers                     RAIN
in high clouds and how water is sent down
to earth as rain. First of all, I will prove
that many particles of moisture rise,
along with clouds themselves, from every place
and that both of them, clouds and all water                         710            [500]
which the clouds contain, increase together,
just as in us our bodies and our blood
grow at the same rate, and the same is true
for sweat and all the moisture in our limbs.
Also, when clouds are carried by the winds
over the great sea, often they absorb
much water from the sea, like wool fleeces
when they are hung out.(17) In the same manner,
clouds draw water up from every river.
Later, when many water particles                                       720
have gathered for many reasons and more
have been added on from every quarter,
then swollen clouds seek to discharge water
for two reasons: the power of the wind                                               [510]
forces them together, and the sheer number
of clouds driven into a larger mass
exerts pressure, pushes down from up above,
and makes the rain stream out. Then, too, when winds
thin out the clouds or sun’s heat breaks them up
with blows from higher up, they send down rain                  730
and drip, just as wax over a hot fire
melts, producing quantities of liquid.
But raging storms of rain occur when clouds
are fiercely pressed by both these forces,
their collective mass and the wind’s power.
Rains usually keep pouring down and last
a long time when many water particles                                                [520]
are driven together, when clouds are piled
on one another, when clouds full of water
are borne above them from every region,                            740
and when all the steaming earth breathes moisture.
At such times, in the midst of the dark storm,
when the sun’s rays have shone right opposite
rain falling from the clouds, then there appears,
standing against the darkness of the clouds,
the colours of the rainbow.

                                                The other things
which are produced and grow all on their own
and all things which, without exception, gather
in the clouds—snow, winds, hail, freezing hoar frosts,
the great force of ice, that mighty power                             750
which hardens water and the obstruction                                            [530]
which everywhere holds eager rivers back—
you can easily discover for yourself
and in your mind grasp how all these are made,
the processes by which they are produced,
after you fully know the properties
their basic particles have been assigned.

Pay attention now and learn the reason                              EARTHQUAKES
there are earthquakes. And first of all assume
the earth below is, like the earth above,                              760
full of windy caves everywhere and holds,
within its bosom, many lakes and pools,
cliffs, and broken rocks. And you must suppose
that underneath the surface of the earth
many hidden rivers with strong currents                                              [540]
force waves and submerged rocks to roll around.
For plain facts state that earth should be the same
in every region.(18) And thus with these things
in place and interlinked below the ground,
the earth above shakes when it is disturbed                         770
by huge collapses underneath, once time
has turned immense caverns into ruins,
for then the sudden shock makes whole mountains
collapse and tremors spread out far and wide.
That is not surprising, since whole houses
by the street tremble when they are shaken
by wagons, which are not heavy. They shake
just as much if some pebble by the road                                             [550]
disrupts the iron wheel rims on either side.
Then, too, sometimes when a large mass of soil                  780
that time has detached from earth tumbles down
into huge extensive pools of water,
the earth is also tossed around and shakes
from the flood of water, just as at times
a container cannot remain steady
unless the liquid inside it has stopped
its unstable motion, shifting to and fro.
Then, too, when the wind which has collected
in cavernous locations underground
blows down from one region and with great force               790
exerts pressure on deep caverns, the earth
tilts in the direction towards which the force                                        [560]
of rushing wind impels it. Then houses
erected on the surface of the earth,
forced in the same direction, lean over—
and the more each building rises upward
to the sky, the more it tilts—while timbers,
now exposed, are left hanging, suspended there,
ready to drop. And yet men are afraid
of believing that a time of chaos                                          800
and collapse is waiting for the nature
of this mighty world, even though they see
such a great chunk of earth about to fall.
And yet if the winds do not cease blowing,
no power can hold things back or check them,
as they march ahead to their destruction.
As it is, since these winds now alternate,                                            [570]
easing off and then growing violent,
and, as it were, gather themselves together,
return to the charge, and then, beaten back,                        810
withdraw, for this reason the earth threatens
to fall more often than it really does.
For it leans over and shifts back again.
After moving forward, it recovers
its own appropriately balanced state.
And from this cause, therefore, every building
trembles, the top more than in the middle,
the middle more than in the lower parts,
and the bottom to a very small degree.
The same great shaking of the earth also                             820
can be caused as follows. When suddenly
the wind, as well as some huge force of air,
gathered outside or buried in the earth,
has hurled itself into hollow places                                                      [580]
underground and, to begin with, rages
among huge caves there, creating havoc
and whirling as it is carried forward,
then later, once its force is fully roused
and energized, it bursts out. As it does,
it splits the earth from deep inside and forms                       830
a massive chasm. This is what happened
at Sidon in Syria, and it occurred
at Aegium in the Peloponnese.(19)
Such an outrush of air and the earthquake
which ensued overwhelmed these two cities.
Many walled towns have also fallen down
from terrestrial earthquakes. Many cities,
along with their inhabitants, have sunk                                                [590]
to the bottom of the sea. Even if
the air does not break out, nevertheless                              840
its very strength and the fierce force of wind
are spread, like a quivering ague fit,
through numerous passageways in the earth
and thus produce the tremors, just as cold,
once it penetrates deep inside our limbs,
shakes them against our will and forces them
to move and tremble. Thus, men in cities
are anxious about a double terror:
they fear the buildings overhead and dread
the nature of the earth, which, all at once,                           850
may break apart the caverns underground
and, ripped apart, may open up her jaws
and seek, in that chaos, to gorge herself                                             [600]
on her own ruins. So they may believe
what they want about how heaven and earth
will be incorruptible and guaranteed
eternal safety. Nonetheless, sometimes
the very power of a present danger
from some place or other applies this goad
which makes men fearful that the earth could well                860
suddenly disappear beneath their feet,
be carried off to the abyss, and then
the total sum of things, once overthrown,
will follow, and the whole world will become
a chaotic ruin.

                                                     To begin with,              OCEANS
men find it strange that nature does not make
the ocean bigger, since so much water
flows in from all the rivers which reach it                                            [610]
from every region.(20) Add in wandering rains
and flying storms, which sprinkle and pour down                 870
on every sea and land. Then add to these
its own springs. Yet if we compare all these
to the whole sea, they will increase its bulk
scarcely by one drop. So it is less strange
that the great ocean does not grow in size.
Moreover, with its heat the sun draws off
large portions of the sea. For we observe
that with his burning rays the sun dries clothes
soaked in water. And we well understand
that there are many seas and these extend                           880
far and wide. And therefore, although the sun                                     [620]
may at any one location draw up
from the surface only a small amount
of moisture, still in such a vast expanse
it will remove a great deal of water.
Furthermore, winds sweeping across calm seas
can also take significant amounts
of water, for we frequently see roads
dried out by winds in just a single night
and soft mud harden into crusts. Besides,                           890
I have shown that clouds also take away
much water, absorbed from the vast surface
of the ocean and that they scatter it,
here and there, in all regions of the world,
when it rains on earth and winds bring clouds.                                    [630]
Lastly, since earth is made of porous stuff
and is in contact with the sea, for earth
surrounds the ocean shores on every side,
then water must, just as it moves from land
into the sea, likewise flow into land                                     900
from the briny sea. Salt is filtered out,
and the liquid material flows back,
gathering at the head of every river.
From there it runs back with a fresh current
over lands through river beds which, once cut,
take waters on their liquid march downstream.

Now I will explain the reason why fires                               VOLCANOS
sometimes burst out with such tempestuous rage                                [640]
from Mount Etna’s jaws. For the fiery storm,
which was no ordinary calamity,                                         910
arose and tyrannized Sicilian fields,
making near-by people pay attention,
when they saw all spaces in the heavens
smoke and sparkle, and in their hearts were full
of trembling panic at what new changes
nature was struggling to set in motion.(21)
In such matters your perspective must be
far and deep. You need to investigate
over a wide range in all directions,
so you remember that the sum of things                              920
is beyond all measure and see how small,                                           [650]
how minutely small, a part of the whole
one heaven is—not as large a fraction
as one person is of the entire world.
If you establish this point properly,
consider it well, and see it clearly,
then there will be numerous phenomena
you will stop wondering about. With us,
is anyone amazed if a man gets
a fever in his body which begins                                          930
with burning heat, or some illness hurts him
in his limbs? A foot will suddenly swell up,
often a sharp pain grabs our teeth or shoots
right into our eyes. And then that sickness
called the sacred fire erupts—it slithers
through the body, and, as it crawls along                                            [660]
inside our limbs, it burns whatever part
it seizes in its grip.(22) For there exist,
not surprisingly, seeds of many things,
and this earth and sky bring us sufficient                              940
severe illnesses, and from these can grow
an enormous number of diseases.
Therefore, we must assume all earth and sky
can be supplied out of infinite space
with such objects in sufficient numbers,
and from them earth can suddenly be struck
and shifted and a whirling wind storm sweep
across the sea and land, fires of Etna
can erupt, and heaven burst into flames.
For that happens, too—places in the sky                            950            [670]
catch fire. And when particles of water
by chance arrange themselves a certain way,
then more serious rainstorms are produced.(23)
“But storming fires of Etna,” you may say,
“are too immense.” And that is true. Just as
any river is enormous to someone
who looks at it and who, before that time,
has not seen one greater. So, too, a tree
or man may also appear gigantic.
With all things of every kind the largest                               960
that any man has seen he imagines
as prodigious, even though all of them
along with heaven and earth and ocean
are nothing compared to the total sum
of the universal whole.

                                      Now I will show                                          [680]
how that inferno is suddenly roused
and bursts out from those immense furnaces
of Etna. First of all, the whole mountain
is naturally hollow underneath,
supported everywhere on basalt caves.                              970
And in all these caves there is wind and air.
For air is transformed into wind once stirred
and set in motion.(24) When this wind gets hot
and, as it rages, heats up all the rocks
it makes contact with in its surroundings
and the ground, as well, and draws out from them
a searing fire with swift flames, it rises,
hurling itself high up and thus straight through
the mountain’s jaws. And thus it carries heat                                       [690]
long distances, scatters its glowing ash                                980
over a huge area, and rolls out
thick, dark, murky smoke, while at the same time
tossing up boulders of amazing weight.
One cannot doubt that these things manifest
the stormy force of air. Then, too, the sea
for the most part diminishes its waves
on that mountain’s lower slopes and withdraws
its tide. Caverns extend under the ground
all the way from this sea to the deep mouth
of the mountain. Through these, we must assume,                990
[air enters combined with water, for] facts
compel us [to believe that air comes in
from] the open sea and moves deep inside.
It then blows out, thus pushing up the flames
hurling out rocks, and raising clouds of sand.(25)                                 [700]
For at the summit there are what those men
name craters—features we call jaws and mouths.

There are some things, as well, more than a few,
for which it is not sufficient to set down
one single cause. We must give several,                              1000
yet only one of them is the real cause.
Just as if you personally observed
a man’s dead body lying some distance off—
it would then be natural to go through
every cause of death, so that you mention
the single cause of that man’s death, because
you could not prove he was killed by a sword,
or by cold, or by disease, or, perhaps,
by poison, but we know something like that                                        [710]
happened to him. And in many cases,                                 1010
we can say the same.

                               The Nile, that river                              THE RIVER NILE
for all of Egypt, is the only one
on earth which rises in the summertime
and floods the fields. It irrigates Egypt
often in the middle of the season’s heat,
perhaps because in summer northern winds,
which at that time of year men give the name
Etesian Winds, confront it at its mouths.(26)
These blow against the flow and hold it back,
force the waters upstream, fill the channels,                         1020
and compel the flowing river to stop.
For there is no doubt that these winds, coming
from the freezing polar constellations,                                                 [720]
are carried directly against the stream
flowing from the south, out of those places
which produce great heat. The river rises
in the central region of the daylight,
among human tribes blackened by the sun.
It could also be that when seas are roused
by winds and then push sand into the streams,                     1030
great piled up dunes obstruct the river’s mouths,
blocking out the waves which move towards them,
which would also make the river’s outward flow
less free, and the movement of the water
down the river would be more difficult.
Perhaps it also happens that rains fall
at the Nile’s source more during that season,
since at that time northern Etesian winds                                             [730]
blow all the clouds into those areas.
And obviously when the clouds are driven                          1040
to the central region of the daylight
and collect there, they are finally pushed
against high mountains in a compact mass
and forcibly compressed. Perhaps the Nile
rises thanks to high Ethiopian hills
far inland, where the sun, whose warming rays
shine everywhere, forces white snow to melt
and flow down to the plains.

                                        Pay attention now,                     AVERNIAN LAKES AND REGIONS
and I will show you the kind of nature
which all Avernian lakes and areas                                      1050
possess. First of all, as to the reason
they are called by that name Avernian:                                                [740]
it has been given to them from the fact
that these places are toxic for all birds,
for when they reach these areas and fly
directly over them, the birds forget
to keep rowing with their wings—they slacken
their sails and then, with softly drooping necks,
fall headlong down to earth, if, by some chance,
the nature of the area permits,                                             1060
or into water, if it so happens
an Avernian lake extends below them.(27)
Cumae has a place like that, where mountains
with many hot springs are completely full
of acrid sulphur and give off vapours.
A place like that exists in Athens, too,
inside the walls, at the very summit
of the citadel, next to the temple
of Tritonian Pallas, the Nourisher,                                                      [750]
where raucous crows on the wing never fly,                        1070
not even when the altars smoke with gifts.
That’s how much they shun the place—not because
of Pallas’ harsh wrath caused by that vigil
Greek poets have sung about, but because
the nature of the place, through its own force,
is enough to bring out this effect.(28) Then, too,
men say in Syria one can see a spot
where even with four-footed animals,
as soon as they first come upon the place,
its force, all by itself, makes them collapse                          1080
in a heavy heap, as if, without warning,
they had been killed there as sacrifices
to the gods who rule the dead. All these things,
occur for natural reasons. The causes                                                 [760]
which produce them have a clear origin,
just in case men may happen to believe
that the Gate of Orcus is located
in these regions and then we might assume
that gods of the dead perhaps conduct souls
down to shores of Acheron from there,                               1090
in the same way men think swift-footed stags,
thanks to their smell, can frequently entice
tribes of wild crawling snakes out of their holes.(29)
How far this is from valid reasoning
you should learn now, for I will try to state
what really happens.

                                    To begin with,                               TOXIC SUBSTANCES
I say what I have often said before:
in the earth there are forms of substances                                           [770]
of every kind. Many are good for food
and preserve life, and many can bring on                             1100
sicknesses and lead to death more quickly.
And, as we have already pointed out,
in order to maintain life, different things
are better suited to different creatures,
because the natures, interconnections,
and shapes of their primordial particles
are not alike. Many damaging things
pass through the ears, many which are harmful
and damaging to our senses also come
through nostrils, and there are several, too,                         1110
we should refuse to touch, and not a few
whose sight we should avoid or which possess                                   [780]
a nauseating taste.

                                            Then you can see
how many things there are whose ill effects
on human sense are harsh and dangerous,
toxic and unpleasant. To start with,
certain trees possess a poisonous shade,
which is so noxious they often bring on
headaches in anyone who lies down there,
reclining underneath them on the grass.                               1120
In the great hills of Helicon, as well,
there is a tree which, thanks to its flowers,
which have a nasty smell, has the power
to kill a man. Clearly these substances
all spring up out of the earth in this way,
because the earth holds many particles
of many things mixed up in many ways
and sends them out as distinct substances.                                          [790]
When a night torch has just been extinguished
and its bitter smell contacts the nostrils,                               1130
it immediately renders unconscious
a person who, because of some disease,
keeps falling down and foaming at the mouth.(30)
A woman will collapse and fall asleep
from the overpowering stench of castor—
the elegant embroideries will slip
from her delicate hands—if she smells it
at the time she has her monthly period.(31)
Moreover, in our bodies many things
relax exhausted limbs and stupefy                                       1140
the soul in its location deep within.
And if you linger too long in hot baths
and wash yourself when you are rather full,                                         [800]
how easily and often you can fall
sitting in the midst of scalding water.
Also, how readily the heavy force
and smell of charcoal penetrate the brain,
if we have not drunk water previously!
But when it is burning hot and fills up
the spaces in the house, then the odour                               1150
of that poisonous stuff affects the nerves
like a deadly blow.(32) Surely, too, you see
that sulphur is produced in earth itself
and that bitumen hardens into crusts
with a revolting smell?(33) And furthermore,
when men follow veins of gold and silver,
searching with their picks the hidden regions
deep in the earth, what odours are expelled                                        [810]
underground from mines in Scaptensula?(34)
What poisonous air comes out of gold mines!                     1160
How they change men’s faces and complexions!
Have you not seen or heard how those who work
in those places usually die quite soon.
and how the full vital power of life
fails those men whom necessity’s strong force
confines to work like that?(35) So then clearly
the earth sends all these vapours steaming out
and vents them into clear open spaces
of the sky.

                                    Likewise, Avernian places
must send up vapour which destroys the birds.                   1170
It moves up from the earth into the air,
so that it poisons a certain region                                                        [820]
of the heavens and, as soon as a bird
on the wing is carried there, it is stopped,
seized by the unseen toxin in the place,
and drops straight down onto the area
the vapour came from. After it falls down,
the same force in that vapour takes away
from all its limbs the vestiges of life.
In fact, the fumes first bring on, as it were,                          1180
a certain dizziness. Then, when the bird
falls onto the sources of the poison,
there it must vomit up its life, as well,
because around it is a vast supply
of lethal fumes.

                    Sometimes it so happens                                                [830]
that this power of Avernian vapours
displaces all the air which is located
between the birds and earth, so that the space
is left almost a void. When flying birds
come directly over such a region,                                       1190
the power in their wings immediately
ends and is quite useless—on either side
all efforts of their wings have no effect.
And so, when they cannot support themselves
or rely upon their wings, then nature,
as is clear enough, forces them to sink
under their own weight, downward to the ground.
They fall in what is almost empty space,
and now through all their body’s openings
their souls disperse.(36)

                       And furthermore, in wells                            1200           [840]
water gets colder in the summertime,
because the warmth makes earth more rarefied                  WATER IN WELLS
and it quickly sends out into the air
the particles of heat it may contain,
if it happens to have any of its own,
and therefore the more earth loses heat,
the more the moisture hidden underground
gets colder. Moreover, when all the earth
is pressed together from the cold, contracts,
and, as it were, congeals, then obviously,                            1210
as it shrinks, it drives out into the wells
whatever heat it may itself contain.
According to reports, there is a spring
near Ammon’s shrine which during the daylight
is cold and which at night is boiling hot.
People, amazed at this fountain, believe                                              [850]
it is quickly heated by fierce sunlight
below the earth when night has shrouded it
in fearful darkness.(37) But this assertion
is very far from proper reasoning.                                       1220
For if the sun could not warm the water
on the upper part when it made contact
with its open surface, even though sunlight
in air above possesses so much heat,
how can the sun from underneath the earth,
which consists of such dense material,
warm up water, make it intensely hot,
particularly when his burning rays                                                       [860]
can hardly force heat through walls in houses?
What, then, is the reason? It is quite clear:                          1230
earth around the fountain is more porous
than other ground, and particles of heat
are numerous near that water body.
And thus, when night, with its dewy shadows,
covers the earth, immediately the ground
grows colder deep inside and then contracts.
As this process takes place, the earth forces
all heat particles it has within it
into the fountain, just as if someone
were squeezing it by hand. This produces                           1240
water which feels hot and its vapour, too.
And later, when rays of the rising sun
have made the ground more loose and rarefied,
as the sun’s warming heat grows more intense,                                   [870]
the elementary particles of fire
return once more to where they were before,
and all the water’s heat moves to the earth.
That is why the fountain in the daylight
grows cold. Moreover, the liquid matter
in the water is stirred up by those rays                                1250
and in the sunlight becomes more porous
from the throbbing heat. And for this reason
it sends out all the particles of heat
it holds inside, just as water often
gives up icy particles it keeps within,
and, by loosening their connections, melts.
There is also a cold spring where coarse flax
held over it is often set on fire,
then at once sends up a flame, and a torch,                                        [880]
kindled in the same manner, casts its light                            1260
across the waters, wherever it floats,
pushed forward by the breeze.(38) And this takes place,
we may be sure, because in the water
there are a lot of particles of heat
and, at the bottom, elements of fire
must rise up from the very earth itself
through the entire fountain. At the same time,
these are blown out and move into the air.
However, they are not so numerous
that they can heat the fountain. Moreover,                          1270
some force compels these scattered particles
to break out through the water suddenly
and coalesce, once they have moved up.
Near Aradus there is a spring like this                                                [890]
in the sea, where fresh water bubbles up
and pushes aside the salt sea water
all around it.(39) In many other spots,
the placid surface of the sea offers
thirsty sailors practical assistance,
for in the middle of its salty waves                                      1280
it vomits up fresh water. And therefore,
in the same way those particles of heat
can burst out through the fountain and disperse.
These elements, once they come together
in the flax or cling onto the body
of the torch, quickly catch fire right away,
because the flax and pine torch also have
many seeds of heat contained inside them.
Do you not perceive as well that a wick                                             [900]
which has just recently been extinguished,                           1290
if you move it near a night lamp, lights up
before it can make contact with the flame,
and that a torch behaves in the same way?
Besides, many other things catch fire, too,
at a distance, merely from their contact
with the heat, before the fire approaches
and immolates them. We must thus assume
that this also happens in that fountain.

And now I will proceed to demonstrate                             MAGNETS
the natural law by which iron can be drawn                         1300
to that stone the Greeks have called the magnet,
a name derived from its native country,
for it originates inside the borders
of that region where the Magnetes live.(40)
Men are astonished by this stone because                                          [910]
often it makes a chain of little rings
suspended from it. In fact, there are times
one can see five or more of them hanging
in a line, swaying in the gentle breeze,
with one attached underneath another,                                1310
suspended there—each ring feels the power
of the binding attraction of the stone
through other rings. That shows how much its force
flows through them all.

                           With matters of this sort,
you must clearly establish many things
before you can provide the principle
of the thing itself, and you must approach
by a very long, circuitous road.
Therefore, I am all the more requesting                                               [920]
attentive ears and mind. First, from all things—                   1320
no matter what we see—bodies must flow,
sent out and scattered in a constant stream.
These strike the eyes and excite our vision.
From certain objects odours also flow
continuously, just like cold from rivers,
heat from the sun, and spray from ocean waves,
which near the seashore eats away at walls.
And various noises never stop moving
through the air. Then, too, when we are walking
near the sea, a moisture which tastes of salt                        1330
often comes in our mouths, and when we see
wormwood being diluted in a mixture                                                 [930]
we get a bitter taste. That shows how much
certain materials flow from everything,
are carried off, and scattered everywhere.
With this diffusion there is no delay,
no respite, for we can always sense things,
always see and smell them and hear their sounds.
Now I will mention once more how all things
have porous bodies, which I clearly showed                       1340
in the first part of my poem, as well.
And though the point is, of course, important
for understanding a great many things,
in the case of this particular matter
which I am going to speak about right now                                         [940]
one must above all establish firmly
that senses do not perceive anything
except matter combined with empty space.
First of all, it so happens that in caves
rocks overhead sweat moisture—they release                    1350
water which falls in trickling drops. Likewise,
sweat drips from our entire body, beards grow,
as do hairs on all our limbs and body.
In every vein food is distributed,
which nourishes the body’s outer parts
and makes them grow, and that includes our nails.
Similarly, we feel both cold and heat
pass through brass, and we can also sense them
as they make their way through gold and silver,
when we have full cups in our hands. Then, too,                  1360           [950]
voices fly through walls of stone in houses,
smells flow through, as do cold and fiery heat,
which has a habit of penetrating
even the power of iron in armour
around the body.(41) And when a tempest
has gathered on earth and in the heavens
and, at the same time, the force of a disease
has also entered, coming from outside,
they both move away, one into the sky,
the other to the earth, and there produce                             1370
their natural effects, since there is nothing
which does not possess a porous body.(42)
To this we should add that all particles
cast off from things are not each provided                                          [960]
with power to stir the same sensations,
nor are they adapted in the same way
for every object. First of all, the sun
bakes the earth and dries it, but it melts ice
and with its rays compels snow piled up high
on lofty mountains to dissolve. Then, too,                            1380
wax turns into liquid if it is placed
in the sun’s heat, and in same manner
fire melts bronze and fuses gold, but shrivels
hides and flesh and pulls them all together.
And the liquid stuff of water hardens
iron from fire, but softens hides and flesh
once heat has made them tough. Although there is
no leafy plant which makes more bitter food                                       [970]
for human beings, the wild olive delights
bearded goats as much as if it possessed                            1390
flavours of ambrosia dipped in nectar.(43)
Also, pigs avoid marjoram and fear
all perfumes, for these are lethal poisons
to bristly swine, although we do perceive
they sometimes give us, so to speak, new life.(44)
And though to us mud is the foulest muck,
we see that pigs, by contrast, love it so,
that they never have enough of rolling
all around in it.

                             This one point still remains
which I should speak of before I proceed                           1400           [980]
to explore matters we are dealing with.
Since the various substances are given
many pores, these openings must be assigned
natures which differ from one another,
with each one possessing its own nature
and passageways, since, as you know, there are
various senses in living animals,
and each of them takes its own material
into itself in its own way—we see
sound comes into us in one way and taste                           1410
from flavours by another, and the smells
of vapours by yet another.(45) Besides,
we see one thing making its way through stone,                                   [990]
another through wood, another through gold,
and yet other things moving out through glass
and silver. For we notice images
go through the former, and heat the latter,
and through the same passageways certain things
make their way more quickly than do others.
Clearly the nature of the passages                                       1420
forces this to happen, since it varies
in many ways, as we showed not far above,
given the different natures and textures
of material things.

                         And so, once these points
have all been fully settled and set down,
worked out in advance and ready for us,
in what still remains it will be easy,                                                     [1000]
using them, to explain the principle
which attracts the power inside iron rings,
and to state openly its entire cause.(46)                               1430
First of all, from this stone there must flow off
a great many particles, streams of them,
which by their impacts push aside the air
located between the iron and the stone.
And then, once this space has been vacated
and a large area between the two
has emptied, then the iron particles
at once move forward in a single mass
and fall into that empty space, so that
the ring itself follows and moves that way                            1440
with its whole body. For there is nothing
consisting of primordial elements
which contain more intricate connections                                            [1010]
holding it together by its own bonds
than the strong, cold, fearful material
of iron. And therefore what I am claiming
is not so strange: when several particles
move to break out from the iron, they cannot
be carried out into the vacant space,
unless the ring itself moves out with them.(47)                      1450
And that is what it does—it follows on,
until it comes right to the stone itself
and sticks itself to it with hidden bonds.
The same thing occurs in all directions.
Any area where a void is made,
either beside the iron or above it,
neighbouring particles are carried off
immediately into the empty space,
since they are driven onward by impacts                                             [1020]
from somewhere else.(48) For they cannot rise up               1460
all on their own into the air. Then, too,
so that this can happen more readily,
these particles are helped along the way
by additional motions and collisions,
because, as soon as air before the ring
is made more rarefied and the region
more void and empty, all air located
behind the ring immediately acts
to push it forward and propel it on,
as if it were blowing on it from behind.                                1470
For things are always buffeted by air
surrounding them. But at a time like this,
the air keeps on pushing the iron forwards,
because on one side there is empty space                                           [1030]
which lets the iron enter. And this air
I mention to you subtly penetrates
into the minute areas of the iron
through their many openings, drives them on,
propelling them ahead, just as the wind
drives a ship and sails. And since substances                      1480
have porous bodies and air is placed around
and is in contact with every object,
then all substances must contain some air
inside their physical matter. And thus,
this air, deeply hidden within the iron,
always tossed around in restless motion,
without doubt shakes the ring and from inside
pushes it ahead. And it is quite clear
the ring is carried in the same direction
it has already, once it has started                                        1490           [1040]
to rush ahead, striving towards the void.
And it also happens that in the iron
material is sometimes pushed away,
back from the stone, for it has a habit
of moving out towards the stone and then,
in turn, going back. I have seen iron rings
from Samothrace even leaping around
and, at the same time, iron filings moving
frantically inside bronze bowls, if one placed
this stone from Magnesia underneath them.                         1500
That shows how much the iron seems to yearn
to avoid the stone. Once one places brass
between the two, such a great commotion
is produced because, of course, when the flow
of particles from brass earlier has seized                                             [1050]
and then holds the iron’s open passageways,
the stream of elements sent from the stone,
coming later, finds all parts in the iron
completely full—there is no opening
through which it can move, as it could before.                     1510
And thus, it is compelled to strike the iron,
to beat against its texture with its waves,
and so to push the iron away from it
and, through the brass, drive off what frequently,
without the brass, it pulls towards itself.(49)
And in these matters do not be surprised
that what streams out from this stone lacks power
to move other things around in the same way.
For they stand still in part through their own weight,
like gold, for instance, and in part because                          1520
their material substance is loosely packed,
so that the stream of particles goes through
without impact and they cannot be moved                                          [1060]
in any way. We can observe that wood
is a material of this kind. And thus,
the nature of iron is between the two.
When it absorbs small particles of brass,
then the current from these Magnesian stones
acts to make it move.

                           And yet these events
are not so foreign to other objects                                      1530
that I would have much difficulty finding
substances like this which I could mention—
materials adapted to each other
and to nothing else. Firstly, you notice
that only mortar binds stones together.
Wood is joined only with glue made from bulls,
so strongly that veins on wooden timbers                                            [1070]
will frequently split open and then crack
before the binding glue can ease its grip.(50)
Juices produced from vines dare to mingle                          1540
with streams of water, although heavy pitch
and light olive oil refuse to do so.
The only substance purple shellfish dye
can be combined with is wool, so much so
that there is no way it can be removed,
no, not even if you took the trouble
to restore the wool with Neptune’s waters,
not if the whole sea wished to wash it clean
with all its moisture. Then, too, is there not
only one substance which joins gold to gold?                      1550
Is not tin the only substance which unites
brass with brass?(51) How many other cases
might one find like this? What would be the point?                              [1080]
You do not need such long and winding roads,
not in the least. Nor is it appropriate
for me to devote so much work to this.
No, it is better to be brief—few words
to cover many things: those substances
whose textures mutually correspond,
so that the cavities and material stuff                                   1560
in one of them match the material stuff
and cavities in the other—these make
the finest unions.(52) And some things also
can be held in mutual combination,
as if linked together by rings and hooks.
And this seems more likely to be the case
with iron and that stone.

                                    Now, I will explain                                        [1090]
the nature of disease and the reasons                                  DISEASES
why suddenly the power of illness
can arise, lighting a fire of destruction                                  1570
for the human race and animal herds.
First, I have shown above that there exist
particles of many things which preserve
our lives. By contrast, there must be many
flying around which bring death and sickness.
And when by chance these happen to gather
and disturb the sky, air becomes diseased.
And all that force of plague and pestilence
arrives, either from outside, moving down
through the heavens like clouds or mists, or else                  1580
it often collects itself together                                                             [1100]
and rises up out of the very earth,
when, soaked with water from excessive rain
and beaten by the sun, it turns putrid.
Have you not also observed that changes
in air and water affect those people
who travel long distances from their homes
and native lands, because these substances
do not remain unchanged? What do we think
the differences are between the climates                             1590
for those in Britain and those in Egypt,
where the world wobbles around its axis?(53)
How does the climate in Pontus differ
from the climate in Gades, and so on,
right up to the races of men baked black
by the scorching sun?(54) And because we know
these four climates arising from four winds                                          [1110]
and four regions of the sky are different,
so we see that men’s colour and appearance
vary greatly and that disease strikes them                            1600
in different ways, each according to his race.
There is elephant sickness, which is born
by the river Nile in middle Egypt
and nowhere else.(55) In Attica the feet
are afflicted with disease, as are the eyes
in the land of the Achaeans. And thus,
different areas inflict injuries
on different parts and limbs, something brought on
by variations in the air. Therefore,
when a sky that is, by chance, strange to us                        1610
sets itself in motion, then harmful air
little by little starts to creep about,
like mist and cloud disturbing every place                                           [1120]
where they advance, compelling it to change.
So it also happens that when that air
ends up entering our sky, it corrupts it
and makes it like itself, harmful to us.
Thus, this new destructive force and sickness
either quickly falls onto the water
or even penetrates into the crops                                        1620
or into other nourishment for men
and food for cattle, or else this force stays
suspended in the very air, so that
when we breathe we take in air mixed with it
and, as we do that, must also absorb                                                 [1130]
those sicknesses diseases into our bodies.

In a similar way a pestilence
often falls on cattle, too, and sickness
on dull bleating sheep. Nor does it matter
whether we go somewhere hostile to us                              1630
and transform the nature of the climate
which wraps itself around us, or whether
nature on her own brings us toxic air
or something else we are not accustomed
to experience which, when it first arrives,
can then attack us.

                                    Such a cause of disease,                PLAGUE IN ATHENS
such a poisonous atmosphere, once filled
fields in the lands of Cecrops with the dead,
emptying roads and draining the city                                                  [1140]
of its inhabitants.(56) The sickness arose                             1640
deep inside the land of Egypt and then,
moving across great portions of the sky
and expanses of the sea, at last reached
the entire population of Pandion,
where it sat, brooding.(57) Then, group after group
were handed over to disease and death.
First of all, people felt their heads burning
from a raging heat, and both eyes turned red
with a suffused glare. Their throats, black inside,
oozed blood, as well, and the vocal passage,                      1650
choked with ulcers, was obstructed, their tongues,
the mind’s interpreter, dripped blood, weakened
with disease, hard to move, and rough to touch.                                 [1150]
Once the force of the illness had shifted
down through the throat, filled the chest, and gathered
right in patients’ suffering hearts, at that point
all the bands of life were truly loosened.
The air they breathed out from their mouths gave off
a putrid smell, like the stink emitted
by rotting corpses thrown out unburied.                              1660
And all mental powers, all the body,
then quickly weakened, at the very door
of death. This intolerable suffering
always brought with it painful anxiety
and complaints mixed in with cries of anguish.
Frequent dry retching, often day and night,                                         [1160]
forced limbs and sinews to convulse in spasms,
and broke down those who were already tired
and wore them out. And yet you could not see
the outermost surface of the body                                       1670
on any of them burn with extreme heat.
Instead it produced a tepid feeling
to the touch. At the same time, the body
was completely red, as if burned with sores,
the way it is when sacred fire spreads out
through the limbs.(58) But people’s internal parts
truly were on fire, right down to the bones.
A flame blazed in the stomach, like the fire
inside a furnace. You could not cover                                                [1170]
anyone’s limbs with something light and thin—                    1680
that offered no relief to anyone—
only wind and cold. Some men plunged their limbs
burning with disease, into freezing streams,
and hurled naked bodies in the water.
Many threw themselves headfirst in deep wells,
with their mouths wide open, seeking water,
for a parching and unquenchable thirst
soaked their bodies and made gigantic gulps
the same as a few drops. With this disease
there was no let up. The bodies lay there,                           1690
totally exhausted. The healing arts
muttered in silent dread, for the patients,
on fire with fever, rolled wide open eyes                                             [1180]
over and over, and did not fall asleep.
Then many other signs of death appeared:
minds disturbed by anxiety and fear,
gloomy frowns, a fierce and wild appearance,
ears in pain, as well, and full of noises,
breaths were quick or else deep but rarely drawn,
moist sweat glistening on the neck, saliva                            1700
thin and scanty, with a yellowish tint,
and tasting salty, spat out with great effort
by coughing it up through rasping gullets.
Sinews in hands did not stop contracting,                                           [1190]
limbs kept trembling, and little by little
cold kept inching its way up from the feet.
And then, in the last moments, the nostrils
were pinched, the tip of the nose sharp and thin,
the eyes hollowed out, the temples shrunken,
the skin icy and hard, the mouth gaping                               1710
in a grin, the forehead tense and bulging.
Not long after that, the limbs would lie there
in rigid death. And when the sun shone out
on the eighth day or else when light returned
for the ninth time, they would, for the most part,
yield up their lives. And if any of them,
at that moment, escaped a lethal fate,
then later decline and death still waited
from filthy ulcers and black discharges                                                [1200]
of the bowels, or else, with a head in pain,                          1720
a large quantity of corrupted blood
would often pour out of stuffed up nostrils.
Into this the entire strength and substance
of the man would flow. And then, if someone
escaped this violent outflow of foul blood,
the disease still moved into his sinews
and limbs, even to the sexual organs
on his body. Some, excessively afraid
of the gates of death, would keep on living
with these male organs sliced off by a knife,                        1730
some still stayed alive without hands or feet,                                       [1210]
and others kept on going without their eyes—
that shows how much a bitter fear of death
had overtaken them. And some were gripped
by loss of memory for everything—
they could not even recognize themselves.
And although many unburied bodies
lay piled on heaps of corpses on the ground,
still the race of birds and wild animals
would roam some distance off, so as to shun                       1740
the nauseous smell or, when one tasted flesh,
it would waste away in a rapid death.
But in those days hardly any birds at all
were to be observed, and the grim species                                         [1220]
of wild creatures did not leave the forests.
Many succumbed to the disease and died.
Above all, faithful dogs in every street
lay prone and, after a struggle, gave up,
for the force of the disease would wrench life
from their bodies. The lonely burials                                   1750
with no one present proceeded quickly,
like a race. And there was no remedy
which was a certain cure for everyone.(59)
What gave one person power to inhale
vital air in through his mouth and stare up
at regions of the sky was lethal to others
and brought on their deaths. But in these events
one thing especially calamitous                                                           [1230]
and painful was that once someone found out
he himself was afflicted with the plague,                              1760
then, as if he had been condemned to die,                             
he gave up hope and, his heart full of grief,
lay there gazing at death, surrendering
his soul right on the spot. As it turned out,
there was no pause: people kept being attacked,
corrupted by this rapacious sickness,
one after another, like woolly flocks
and herds of cattle. And this, above all,
piled death on death, for all those who refused
to care for their own sick from fear of death                        1770          [1240]
and excessive greed for life were punished
soon afterwards by ruinous neglect
with a harsh and evil death, abandoned
and devoid of help. But those who acted
more responsibly died from contagion
and from the efforts which a sense of shame
and the soft entreaties of worn-out men,
together with their voices of complaint,
forced them to undertake. As a result,
the best people suffered this kind of death.                         1780
Then, too, by now all shepherds and herders,
as well as sturdy farmers who guided
curving ploughs, were falling sick. Their bodies,
thrown in a pile, lay deep inside their huts,
given to death by disease and poverty.                                               [1250]
At times, you could see the lifeless bodies
of parents on top of lifeless children
and then the reverse, children losing life
lying above their mothers and their fathers.
And to no small degree this disaster                                    1790
flowed into the city from the country,
carried in by crowds of diseased peasants
who gathered there, affected by this plague,
from every region. They completely filled
all districts and houses, crammed in together.
As a result, death piled them up in heaps—
all the more so in the heat of summer.
Many bodies prostrate with thirst were thrown
into the roadway and lay there stretched out                                       [1260]
by water fountains, their breathing blocked off                    1800
by the excessively sweet taste of water.
Everywhere in open public places
and in the streets you might see many limbs
hanging down from half-dead bodies, smelling
disgusting, covered in rags, and dying
in their bodies’ filth, only skin and bones,
now almost buried in dreadful sores and dirt.
And death had filled all the sacred temples
with lifeless bodies, and all holy shrines
of divine beings were completely full                                   1810
of corpses everywhere, since these places
the temple keepers had all filled with guests.                                       [1270]
And, in fact, by now worship of the gods
and their sanctity did not count for much.
The present suffering overpowered that.
Nor did the funeral customs continue
in the city, rites with which before this
the people had always been accustomed
to be buried. For the whole populace
was confused and in a state of panic,                                  1820
and each man, in his grief, buried his own
as best he could. And sudden disaster
and need prompted many horrific acts.
For, with mighty cries of sorrow, men placed
their own relatives on funeral pyres
built up for strangers, and applied torches,
often fighting quarrels with much bloodshed                                        [1280]
rather than leave the bodies. With corpses
heaped up in different piles people struggled
to bury the multitude of their dead,                                     1830
and then, exhausted, they went home in tears
and grief. And most of them, in their distress,
would go to bed. At such a dreadful time
no person could be found unaffected
either by disease, or death, or sorrow.(60)

 

 

ENDNOTES

 

 (1) This book opens, as before, with a tribute to Epicurus. [Back to Text]

 

 (2) The metaphor here is a military one: the defenders of the city rush out from behind the walls to attack a threatening enemy. [Back to Text]

 

 (3) At line 48 in the Latin the text is very confusing with some lines evidently missing. I follow Munro’s suggested interpolation and translation, given above in square brackets, with some slight changes. I have also followed Munro and Bailey and others in moving lines 48 to 51 in the Latin to a position later on (lines 92 to 95 in the Latin). Hence, there is no line number [50] above. [Back to Text]

 

 (4) Lines 60 and 61 in the Latin have been omitted here. They appear again at lines 94 and 95 of the Latin. Hence, there is no line [60] above. [Back to Text]

 

 (5) This passage is a good indication of Epicurean worship. The gods have no interest in punishing human beings for impiety (for they are unconcerned about human affairs), but human beings who do not understand the nature of the gods hurt themselves because, in their fear of divine punishment, they may become incapable of the only appropriate form of worship, contemplation of the divine images, which, as Lucretius has mentioned before, travel from the gods into the minds of human beings. [Back to Text]

 

 (6) This mention of dividing up the sky refers to the practices of various soothsayers and astrologers, who used these divisions in their interpretations of how storms revealed the wishes of the gods. [Back to Text]

 

 (7) Calliope is one of the nine Muses. She is most closely associated with heroic poetry, especially with Homer. The position of this address to Calliope varies slightly from one editor to another. [Back to Text]

 

 (8) Lucretius is here referring to sheets of papyrus, the material used in books. These sheets were written on and then rolled up. The papyrus, Smith notes, when being prepared, would be hung up to dry, rather like garments on a clothes line. [Back to Text]

 

 (9) The Deluge is a reference to the punishment Zeus sent against men for their impiety, the general flood from which Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha escaped. [Back to Text]

 

 (10) This is a reference to large military catapults. [Back to Text]

 

 (11) As Bailey notes, this passage seems to mean that as the lightning bolt falls the constant motions in all directions of its elementary particles will, because of the duration of the fall and the weight of the particles, increasingly switch to the direction downward, thus increasing the speed of the lightning. [Back to Text]

 

 (12) Lucretius uses here (and later in line 530 below) the word fretus, which, as Munro observes, refers to the strait between two bodies of water and to the turbulent conditions commonly found in such places; hence, the phrase “stormy passages” to describe the seasons of the year favourable to the formation of lightning. [Back to Text]

 

 (13) Etruscans, who lived close to the Romans and influenced them a great deal, were famous for the divinations and prophecies, which they recorded on scrolls. [Back to Text]

 

 (14) A prester, from a Greek word meaning to burn, is a hot whirlwind in a cloud which is pushed down to the sea, where it produces a water spout. [Back to Text]

 

 (15) Watson notes that here Lucretius is referring to a vortex which looks like a prester but which is not hot. [Back to Text]

 

 (16) In this explanation the particles come from outside our world (i.e., from elsewhere in the universe). [Back to Text]

 

 (17) Monserrat and Navarro make the interesting observation that this mention of wool fleeces may be a reference to the practice of hanging them all around a ship and then squeezing them to obtain the fresh water they have absorbed from the sea’s evaporation. [Back to Text]

 

  (18) Lucretius is here insisting that the lower half of the earth must be the same as the upper half. This claim is not consistent with his earlier view that the lower part of the earth is composed so that it gradually merges with the aether surrounding the earth and thus keeps the planet suspended in space (see 5.759 ff). [Back to Text]

 

 (19) Munro notes that the mention of Aegium is a reference to a famous earthquake which took place in 372 BC. [Back to Text]

 

 (20) As a number of commentators note, this passage (lines 608 to 638 in the Latin) seems a very abrupt transition to something unconnected to what precedes it. Bailey suggests that some verses may have been lost which introduced a series of natural paradoxes on the earth. [Back to Text]

 

 (21) Mount Etna is an active volcano in Sicily which throughout history up to and including present times has frequently erupted, often with disastrous results. It is not clear whether Lucretius is referring to a particular eruption. There was a major one in 396 BC and another in 122 BC. [Back to Text]

 

 (22) The sacred fire has been identified as erysipelas, a severe and very irritating skin infection. [Back to Text]

 

 (23) The point of this rather laboured comment seems to be that, given the infinite number of particles, we should not be astonished that apparently huge natural events (like the eruption of Etna) take place. These seem great to us, but in comparison with infinite space, they are insignificant. Note how

Lucretius sees diseases originating from particles which come into our world and onto earth from somewhere in infinite space. [Back to Text]

 

 (24) Bailey points out that this distinction between wind and air rests on the idea that, for Lucretius, air loses some of its basic particles once it is roused and set in motion and thus is not the same substance. [Back to Text]

 

 (25) A line is apparently lost here. I have followed (more or less) Munro’s conjecture for the missing material. [Back to Text]

 

 (26) Etesian winds are an annual summer phenomenon in the eastern Mediterranean. They blow steadily from the north-west for much of the summer. The unusual behaviour of the Nile was a subject of great interest in ancient times. [Back to Text]

 

 (27) The term Avernian is derived from Lake Avernus in Italy, well known for its poisonous vapour, which, so it was believed, killed birds flying over its waters. The name is generally applied to places where birds cannot or will not live. By tradition such regions were closely associated with death and the underworld. The Greek word for “lacking birds” is aornos, and Lucretius seems to hint that this word is related to the name of the lake. [Back to Text]

 

 (28) Tritonian Pallas is one of the names given to the Greek goddess Athena. A well known ancient Greek legend claimed that Athena would not allow crows ever to fly above the Acropolis in Athens, as a punishment for bringing her the bad news that the daughters of Cecrops, a mythical king of that city, had failed to obey her instructions. The crow stayed on watch, keeping an eye on the three women (hence the word “vigil”) and informed on them. It is not entirely clear why Athena punished the crow for the disobedience. [Back to Text]

 

 (29) Orcus is the Roman god of the underworld, and the Gate of Orcus is the entrance to the land of the dead. Popular superstition linked this gate to Avernian regions. [Back to Text]

 

 (30) These are the symptoms of epilepsy. [Back to Text]

 

 (31) Castor (or castoreum) is a liquid taken from small sacs near the anus of the beaver. It has long been used in perfumes and once was a medicinal remedy for various ailments. Pliny the Elder reports that the beaver, when being hunted and aware that the hunter is seeking castor, will chew off its testicles and throw them towards the hunter in order to be left alone. [Back to Text]

 

 (32) The text is evidently very uncertain here. I have followed Munro’s suggestions. [Back to Text]

 

 (33) Bitumen is a naturally occurring tar-like substance, sometimes called asphalt or heavy crude oil. It contains sulphur. [Back to Text]

 

 (34) Sacptensula is a place in Macedonia famous for its mines. Here the word may be a general name applied to all underground mining. [Back to Text]

 

 (35) The workers in underground mines were commonly slaves. [Back to Text]

 

 (36) At this point it appears that a number of lines have been lost. [Back to Text]

 

 (37) Ammon’s shrine is a major religious sanctuary in Libya. [Back to Text]

 

 (38) This appears to be a reference to another important religious shrine, the one dedicated to Zeus at Dodona in north-west Greece. [Back to Text]

 

 (39) Aradus is an island off the coast of Asia Minor. [Back to Text]

 

 (40) Magnesia is a region of Lydia in Asia Minor. Its inhabitants were called the Magnetes. Watson mentions the story which claims that the name derives from Magnes, the young man who discovered magnetic rocks when he walked over some of them with metal attached to his shoes. The most common naturally occurring magnetic rock is called lodestone, a variety of magnetite. [Back to Text]

 

 (41) The meaning of the Latin is unclear here. There may be, as Bailey points out, a line missing. I have followed Watson’s suggestion. The image here is taken from military experience: heat from the fires in war passes through body armour and is felt on the body. [Back to Text]

 

 (42) The sense of the Latin in these lines is not immediately obvious, and different translators have produced widely different readings. The English here is based on Munro’s transposition of lines 955 and 956 in the Latin and his overall sense of the passage. The sense seems to be that particles which create storms and others which create diseases both enter from outside and affect us, one in the sky, the other on earth. These are examples of how, given the porous nature of matter, physical substances can move. [Back to Text]

 

 (43) Ambrosia and nectar are the food and drink of the gods. [Back to Text]

 

 (44) Marjoram is a perennial herb with a strong sweet smell. [Back to Text]

 

 (45) Lines 988 to 989 in the Latin have been omitted. They are repeated at 995 to 996 of the Latin. [Back to Text]

 

 (46) In the discussion which follows the term iron refers to the material in the rings attracted to or repelled by the magnetic stone. I have added the word “rings” to make that clear here. [Back to Text]

 

 (47) The point here is that the bonds of the iron particles are too strong for individual ones to break free and move away from the ring on their own. So instead they pull the entire ring with them. [Back to Text]

 

 (48) The impacts which drive the iron particles nearest to the empty space out into it would presumably be the particles of iron further away (i.e., on the side away from the magnet), which are constantly moving. And, as Lucretius goes on to mention, the air would also push the particles towards the void. [Back to Text]

 

 (49) As Munro points out, Lucretius seems to have made an error in his observations and conclusions here, since the actions of a magnet are not affected by placing a non-magnetic substance in between the iron and the magnet. [Back to Text]

 

 (50) In ancient times bull’s hides were an important source of glue. [Back to Text]

 

 (51) Lucretius uses the Latin phrase for tin, plumbum album (white lead), but nowadays white lead is a different substance from tin. [Back to Text]

 

 (52) That is, the best unions are made when the natural irregularities in the two materials fit closely together, like pieces of Lego. [Back to Text]

 

 (53) Bailey notes that in ancient times people thought the axis of the earth slanted from the upper part in the north down towards Egypt The verb here (claudico), which indicates defective or erratic motion, may possibly be a reference to the axial precession of the earth, the process by which the orientation of the earth’s axis rotates (like a wobbling top) and traces out a circular motion in about 26,000 years. [Back to Text]

 

 (54) Gades is now the city of Cadiz. [Back to Text]

 

 (55)  Elephant sickness is elephantiasis, which can cause massive swellings under the skin. [Back to Text]

 

 (56) The land of Cecrops is Athens and its surrounding territory. This final section of the poem is very closely based on Thucydides’ famous description of the plague in Athens at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War (430 BC). Munro notes that scholars have come up with a long list of different possibilities for the disease (typhus, bubonic plague, scarlet fever, smallpox, and so on). [Back to Text]

 

 (57) Pandion was a legendary king of Athens. [Back to Text]

 

 (58) Sacred fire, as mentioned before, has been identified as erysipelas, a virulent and painful skin infection. [Back to Text]

 

 (59) The transition to this sentence appears abrupt and awkward. Bailey suggests that some lines connecting this sentence with what is immediately before it may be missing. [Back to Text]

 

 (60) Following the practice of some other editors, I have transferred the last lines here (1728 ff) from their customary position (1247-1251 in the Latin), where they have no clear connection to what immediately precedes them. [Back to Text]


Link to On the Nature of Things, Table of Contents